Mozart: Piano Sonatas, K279, K281, K309, K330, K331, K457, K533, K570 & K576; Fantasia K475

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LABELS: Hungaroton
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, K279, K281, K309, K330, K331, K457, K533, K570 & K576; Fantasia K475
PERFORMER: Zoltán Kocsis (piano)
When Artur Schnabel made his much-quoted remark that ‘Mozart’s piano sonatas are too easy for beginners and too difficult for artists’, he was thinking primarily of the merciless simplicity of the writing, leaving us no place to hide, no possibilities of bluff, and requiring the maximum finesse, and coherence of every kind of articulation – melodic, harmonic, rhythmic. What he probably wasn’t thinking of, at least not primarily, was getting exactly the right kind of sound. Today, however, with all our widespread acquaintance with the sound of period instruments, getting the right kind of sonority has become a high priority. And it’s here, above all, that both Kocsis and Ránki (remarkably similar in outlook) seem to me to have misjudged the music. Too much of it is simply too loud, and even when it isn’t, there’s often an inappropriately solid, faintly clangorous tone – more’s the pity, because the playing of each is full of virtues, not the least of which is its self-evident vitality and involvement. Mind you, there are prominent fortepianists who also slam into the keys and produce an abrasively jangling tone. And Clara Haskil was producing exactly the right kind of sonority long before the fortepiano had even started its comeback – through sheer, intuitive musicianship.


Of present-day pianists who’ve chosen not to go the period-instrument route, none has achieved a more judicious blend of sonorities than Mitsuko Uchida, whose complete Mozart sonata cycle I continue to prefer to all others, including Schiff, Eschenbach, Pires and Barenboim (she also has the benefit of a first-rate recording). Jeremy Siepmann